The Red Queen

The Red Queen
by Margaret Drabble
2004 / 354 pages
tentative rating – 8.5 (originality)

This is a fictionalized account of the life of Lady Hyegyeong, Crown Princess of Korea as wife of Crown Prince Sado who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  The second half is the purely fictional life of the very contemporary British academic,  Barbara Halliwell.   The book was inspired by Lady Hyegyeong’s memoirs.

The book was very, very interesting to me but it was kind of a slog to read it – I don’t know why.  I think I was trying to absorb every detail – or – my brain was taken up with a new diet and exercise regiment.   The second half was much easier than the first.

Great review at Ready, Steady Book 

In the first half we learn from the dead Lady Hyegyeong the story of her life.  Drabble has included many details about court life in 17th and 18th century Korea.  Red is an important color throughout the book.  Hyegyeong is somewhat superstitious but she lives in treacherous times.  She watches as her husband goes mad and his father, the king,  tortures him emotionally.  Her son is her saving grace – he will be the heir.   Her story parallels other major figures in world history – it’s unusual but not unheard of.

She is both wife and mother to very powerful men and she is not always the most unbiased narrator – it’s fairly obvious she’s somewhat “unreliable.”

The second half of the book is a modern version of the Red Queen’s story.  From beyond the grave Lady Hyegyeong has chosen an emissary to make sure her story is told.  Barbara Halliwell is an ambitious academic, a woman separated from her husband who is insane.  She lost a child to a rare disease.  The lives of Halliwell and Hyegyeong parallel in many respects.   But that’s not the whole point.

Hyegyeong, now a ghost,  wants her memory to live on and Halliwell is the vehicle.  Very interesting intellectually but the emotional connection never quite made it to me –  Still it was original and well done.

The Korea Times


Crown Prince Sado was the son of King Jeongjo of Joseon .   Sado’s wife and widow, Lady Hyegyeong,  the Red Queen, wrote her own book, The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong (한중록, 閑中錄), detailing her life as the ill-fated Crown Princess of Korea. This collection of memoirs serves as an invaluable source of historical information on the political happenings during the reigns of King Yeongjo, King Jeongjo and King Sunjo.

Crown Prince Sado

Gyeonghui-gung Palace, Seoul

A Brief History of  Korea 

Jeongio of Joseon 

Queen Jeongsun 

Sado of Korea 

korean illuminated manuscripts:

Korean society 1800-1860

Korean Confucianism 

**  Causity uses something like precedent to decide judgement -**

Mulberry Palace  is a westerners’ nickname for Gyeonghui-gung,


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